Kim Thien Le may have illegally filled about 750,000 prescriptions, many of which were for highly addictive opioids.
Walgreens will pay $7.5 million to settle a California lawsuit after one of its pharmacists was found to be a fraud.
According to The Associated Press, Kim Thien Le has so far pleaded not guilty to felony impersonation charges. But prosecutors say she filled hundreds of thousands of prescriptions between late 2006 and 2017.
Le, says KTLA, used real pharmacists’ license numbers to impersonate them. In sum, she filled at least 745,000 prescriptions. Of those, more than 100,000 were for opioids like fentanyl, morphine and codeine.
Le was at no point a licensed pharmacist or otherwise certified to take medication orders.
Now Walgreen will have to pay a heavy penalty following a consumer protection action filed by the district attorneys of Santa Clara and Alameda counties.
“Consumers depend on pharmacies to make sure that the person behind the counter preparing and giving out medical prescription drugs is trained, competent and licensed to do so,” Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Tiyen Lin said in a statement. “Their lives may depend on it.”
The $7.5 million settlement covers penalties, costs and remedial payments. In a joint statement, both distract attorney’s offices blamed Walgreens for failing to conduct adequate background checks.
“Walgreens failed to vet Ms. Le thoroughly when it promoted her to positions requiring a license and failed to make sure that its internal systems were strong enough to prevent an employee from evading them,” the Alameda County District Attorney’s office said.
“This case serves as a cautionary tale for every health care provider that hires people into positions requiring a professional license,” O’Malley said. “The burden is on the company to make sure its employees are properly licensed and to complete a thorough background check.”
“My office will be vigilant in protecting consumers and enforcing licensing laws,” she added.
Along with shelling out several million dollars, the settlement also requires Walgreens to take implement a license-checking program, post proof of licensure and submit annual compliance reports.
In its own statement, issued Monday, Walgreens said Le hasn’t worked with the company since 2017.
“This individual is no longer employed by Walgreens, and has not been since October 2017,” Walgreens said. “Pharmacy quality and safety are top priorities , and upon learning of this issue, we undertook re-verification of the licenses of all our pharmacists nationwide.”
The Mercury News notes that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra charged Le with false impersonation, identity theft, and fraud in July. Becerra’s office also levied a relatively small penalty against Walgreens, requiring the company pay a $335,000 civil penalty and an additional $19,500 to reimburse a Justice Department investigation.